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Political Machismo

Donald Trump’s hyper-masculinity is distinctly unconvincing. Despite his rants and bluster, one still has the impression that behind his façade of pumped-up machismo lurks a frightened little white man who knows that he is no longer in control.

NEW YORK – Parts of the world are experiencing eruptions of hyper-masculinity. The president of the United States presents himself as a kind of caveman, beating his chest, grabbing women “by the pussy,” and roaring like a great ape. A Canadian psychology professor, Jordan Peterson, has attracted countless young male followers by telling them to stand up straight, fight the liberal softies, reassert their male authority, and restore the old social hierarchies that he believes are forces of nature. Peterson is a slightly more couth version of another male self-help guru, Julien Blanc, who caused a scandal a few years ago by stating that women enjoy being taken by force.

Such eruptions have occurred before in a more politically toxic manner. In Italy between the two world wars, Mussolini made himself the focus of a masculine cult: the Great Leader in riding boots, hands planted firmly on his leather belt, scowling and strutting and jutting his massive jaw, dominating the Italian public, as though it were his submissive mistress.

Other fascist leaders in Europe followed Mussolini’s example. Obsessed by a sense of national decadence, of cultures growing soft, they sought to invigorate their people with shows of theatrical manliness. Hitler’s description of the Hitler Youth put the manly ideal succinctly: “Fast as greyhounds, tough as leather, and hard as Krupp steel.”

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